Step away from the melted wax

. . . and nobody gets hurt.

Remember how I said I was starting the May challenge with something I’m good at and something at which I don’t exactly excel?


Many years ago I decided that as someone who enjoys and does reasonably well at a number of needle arts (sewing, knitting, spinning, embroidery, etc.), it might be fun to take up weaving.  I decided to take a weaving class, and this turned out to be a very good thing.

I. Don’t. Like. Weaving.

With all due respect to those of you who weave like Penelope (when she was in forward drive, that is) . . . oh, dear. The set up was much too arithmetic for my liking (not so good at things requiring precision in measurement) and the weaving itself, which I thought I’d find meditative, I . . . uh . . . didn’t.  I do love and respect beautiful weaving. Which is why I’m thrilled that there are other people who are good at it and love doing it. *

Anyway . . . for a long time I’ve been a big fan of, and have been deeply inspired by the encaustic work of Bridgette Guerzon Mills, who blogs over at Contemplating the Moon. Man, are her things beautiful. Every one.

Inspired by her and by my Better Half’s sudden infatuation with Fayum portraits like the one below, I decided to try a little encaustic painting myself.

The luminosity, the lifelike textures . . . incredibly inspiring.

Besides, I thought, I have all this beeswax just sitting around. After our honey harvests we gather up all the beeswax from the cappings the bees put over the little cells full of honey, melt them, strain the dirt and debris out of them (bees have remarkably grubby little  feet–you’d be astonished at how dirty the wax in a beehive gets), and save the wax in either little flakes or melt it and pour it into a milk carton to harden into a block. Two harvests ago we used the wax to make lip balms and some furniture polish. Last year the harvest was kind of small and we had just kept the loose flakes of wax hanging around on a paper towel covered baking sheet on the top shelf in my office. They look rather like wheat germ or oatmeal:

I doled out these flakes into little disposable foil pans (the kind you make individual loaves of bread in) and set them on a griddle on the stove over very low heat (wax is highly flammable, remember). Not having the right kind of coloring agents for wax, I grated in some bits of oil pastel.

And proceeded to work up three . . . um . . . paintings. They weren’t exactly gruesome, but it is clear that this is not my medium. I’m sure that if I’d had proper encaustic equipment (and training!) things might have gone better, but I still don’t think the method would speak to me the way other things have done (like the gelatin prints I couldn’t stop doing last month).

Still, it was exciting to spend a day trying a technique that’s completely new to me. And if the short window of opportunity for getting a brush-stroke down before the wax hardened again made me a little frantic, the scents of wax and honey (I’ll bet bee feet, albeit dirty, smell great) and the rich colors were a delight.

So here are the fruits of my labors. Not ready for prime time, but not terrible, either. The first one is little semi-abstract take inspired by a dawn beach walk last fall.

Take two–a vase of poppies:

And to finish (I only had three panels on which to work), this raku tea bowl (says my Better Half: “Another bowl?”).  This one I kind of like. I may even hang it in my office.

As an object lesson.


*It occurs to me that I must have made something in that weaving class. I have a vague memory that we each wove a scarf. I cannot for the life of me, though, remember anything about what I created, nor can I find evidence of there ever having been such an object. This may be one of those cases in which failure of memory serves a protective function.


2 responses to “Step away from the melted wax

  1. I love luminosity of these..sounds time consuming but you are too hard on yourself–they’re very nice.

  2. Thank you. Having slept on them (not literally, of course), I think they’re growing on me.

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